Now that Clifford J. Johnson has been sentenced to prison for a horrific DUI accident in June 2021 which killed his nine-year-old stepson, attention is turning to the role a popular Tucson restaurant and its staff played in the boy’s death.
Johnson was in Cochise County Superior Court on Tuesday for sentencing stemming from the death of Lance Aguirre, who was riding with his stepfather as they headed home to Sierra Vista after spending several hours at a family birthday party at the Dave & Buster’s on East Marketplace.
At some point Johnson, crossed the divided lanes of State Route 90 and drove his vehicle head-on into an oncoming vehicle. The other driver told state troopers it appeared Johnson intentionally drove at her despite the fact she took evasive maneuvers to avoid a crash.
That driver suffered severe arm and leg injuries; her then-infant son was not injured. Two of Johnson’ biological children were also in Johnson’s vehicle and spent several days in the hospital receiving treatment for their injuries.
Public records obtained by Arizona Daily Independent from the Arizona Department of Liquor License and Control (ADLLC) show Dave & Buster’s finished serving a 30-day suspension of its liquor license on July 27 as part of a Consent Agreement and Order.
Under terms of the Order, Dave & Buster’s (referred to as the Licensee) acknowledged, without admission, that ADLLC investigators had evidence to conclude that “Licensee’s employees sold alcohol to an intoxicated patron after it was known or they should have known of the patron’s intoxication.”
There was also “no evidence that Licensee’s staff attempted to ensure that the intoxicated patron did not drive his vehicle away from the establishment,” the agreement noted, referring specifically to Clifford Johnson’s June 18, 2021 accident.
The Licensee also “failed to notify the Department as required by law” when a negligence lawsuit was filed against Dave & Buster’s by Lance Aguirre’s father. In addition to the liquor license suspension, the company agreed to pay a $9,000 civil penalty to ADLLC as part of the Consent Agreement.
There have been three more lawsuits filed against Dave & Buster’s stemming from the June 18, 2021 accident. One was filed by the mother of the two injured Johnson children and one by the driver of the other vehicle.
Mindy Johnson drove home to Sierra Vista with the other three children of the blended family who had been at the birthday party. She told DPS investigators she knew her husband was inebriated when he left but was “unsuccessful” when she called him to get him to stop so she could get the three children who were in his vehicle.
Attorneys for Dave & Buster’s have filed a Notice of Non-Party at Fault in each of those three lawsuits, alleging Mindy Johnson was at fault for “causing and/or significantly contributing to” the incident and injuries. It is an issue which the juries could be asked to consider if any of the cases goes to trial.
Mindy Johnson is also suing Dave & Buster’s.
It is unclear whether any Dave & Buster’s employees were prosecuted for their actions that day in June 2017. However, several parties connected to the Johnson – Aguirre accident have expressed surprise at the quick resolution by ADLLC.
Thomas Mangan, a spokesman for ADLLC, confirmed Dave & Buster’s complied with all the terms of the Consent Agreement during the 30 day suspension period. He also explained that the Department considers accidents involving wrong-way drivers a top priority.
“Alcohol impairment is a significant factor in the majority of wrong-way driving crashes resulting in serious injuries and often fatalities,” Mangan said. “The ADLLC understands that the wake of such an accident can be devastating.”
That devastation, Mangan said, reinforces the agency’s commitment to public safety with its partners, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Department of Transportation, who actively participate in the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety initiative to reduce the occurrence of wrong-way drivers on Arizona’s freeways.